TX School cuts microphone on religious graduation speech

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Faith & Theology / Political Commentary / Society & Culture

A valedictorian in a Texas high school had his microphone cut off after mentioning God, and the constitutional right of students to speak about their faith.

In april, I wrote about the subtle indoctrination of secular education, through which children are tacitly trained to think of faith as a private matter that should not be discussed in a public forum. The complete absence of references to God or biblical themes suggests that these are not mainstream ideas, and that the default view of an educated person is an atheistic one. Indeed, as the Anti-Defamation League says on its website, “public schools may not teach religion, although religion in a secular context is permitted… in a neutral, objective, balanced and factual manner”—as if these words are incongruent with faith.

As an instrument of government, the public education system has fallen to the mistaken—though widely assumed—belief that it must be strictly separated from religion, which in America is synonymous with Christianity. Thus, time after time after time, stories surface of teachers and administrators purging their classrooms of anything that can be labelled a “Christian” point of view. At universities it’s far worse.

So again, we have a student at the top of his class, who decides he wants to thank God in his commencement address—something not especially uncommon. While schools generally discourage students around the nation from such content, there are probably many more occasions in which school officials let it slide than we ever hear about. Nevertheless, this one was born for headlines.

Apparently, school officials reviewed and disapproved of valedictorian Remington Reimer’s original draft, featuring religious remarks. He turned in a second clean version to their satisfaction and received warning that his microphone would be cut if he deviated, so when he decided to include this threat in his actual speech that is precisely what happened.

The school district maintains that they followed policy, but the details of their statement show just how well discrimination can be disguised within the patchwork of policy:

The District has reviewed the rules and policy regarding graduation speech, and it has been determined that policy was followed at the Joshua High School 2013 Graduation Ceremony. The valedictorian, salutatorian, and class historian speeches were reviewed in advance by the campus staff, prior to the graduation ceremony. Student speakers were told that if their speeches deviated from the prior-reviewed material, the microphone would be turned off, regardless of content. When one student’s speech deviated from the prior-reviewed speech, the microphone was turned off, pursuant to District policy and procedure.

We are supposed to acknowledge the fair treatment of all speakers and walk away from this story thinking that someone just took it too personally—another overly offended family with a lot of facebook friends.

But the term “prior-reviewed” hides the fact that the speech also had to be prior-approved. By not approving the original speech, then relying on a policy that gives them permission to cut off a microphone if a student deviates, the district set up a game in which they could not lose. Effectively, they gave the student an ultimatum: say what we want you to say, or you’ll be silenced and held against school policy.

The student handbook may not say there is a policy against discussing faith, but by placing complete power over expression in the hands of people who believe faith should not be discussed, the outcome is the same.

Likewise, it may not be a policy of our government to discriminate against Christians, but its persistent squeezing out of “religious” dialogue from the public square has the same result.

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